An external 3½" HDD seems to be in danger of failing — it's making ticking sounds when idle.

I've acquired a replacement drive, and want to know the best strategy to get the data off of the dubious drive with the best chance of saving as much as possible.

There are some directories that are more important than others. However, I'm guessing that picking and choosing directories is going to reduce my chances of saving the whole thing. I would also have to mount it, dump a file listing, and then unmount it in order to be able to effectively prioritize directories. Adding in the fact that it's time-consuming to do this, I'm leaning away from this approach.

I've considered just using dd, but I'm not sure how it would handle read errors or other problems that might prevent only certain parts of the data from being rescued, or which could be overcome with some retries, but not so many that they endanger other parts of the drive from being saved. I guess ideally it would do a single pass to get as much as possible and then go back to retry anything that was missed due to errors.

Is it possible that copying more slowly — e.g. pausing every x MB/GB — would be better than just running the operation full tilt, for example to avoid any overheating issues?

For the "where is your backup" crowd: this actually is my backup drive, but it also contains some non-critical and bulky stuff, like music, that aren't backups, i.e. aren't backed up.

The drive has not exhibited any clear signs of failure other than this somewhat ominous sound. I did have to fsck a few errors recently — orphaned inodes, incorrect free blocks/inodes counts, inode bitmap differences, zero dtime on deleted inodes; about 20 errors in all.

The filesystem of the partition is ext3.


3 Answers 3


Have a look at ddrescue

  • +1, but I wouldn't touch the drive at all and let professionals recover it, if the data were really important.
    – htorque
    Dec 29, 2010 at 19:45
  • 5
    I have had good luck with GNU ddrescue in the past. Be careful which tool you use - the package name for GNU ddrescue is "gddrescue" in the ubuntu repositories, and the plain "ddrescue" package is a different tool entirely (dd_rescue). Dec 29, 2010 at 20:35
  • this is it...+1 Dec 30, 2010 at 1:15

I highly recommend Spinrite, small price to pay for recovering your data and it is excellent at managing all hard drives as well.

  • -1 Spinrite's not for data recovery, last I read it actually tries to read and then write to every sector of a drive, that's the last thing you want to do when the goal is reading all you can before a drive fails. And it's not even free
    – Xen2050
    Jan 29, 2019 at 14:57

For me the following program worked well and it is freeware:

Unstoppable Copier

But as htorque said before ... if it is really important Data you better go here:

Kuert Data Restore

They have special student offers and once saved my harddsik.

Good Luck!

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